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Best Chicago Literary Readings

Whatever you do, don't mistake a Chicago reading as something where tweed-coated, grad students send a coffee shop full of bored listeners into a coma. In Chicago, home of the first poetry slam, stories and words are full contact affairs. They're all out brawls and dirt under your fingernails. Sometimes they're crack-a-rib-from-laughing-too-hard, other times they're liable to break your heart from the depth of their authenticity. Readings in Chicago aren't just for the Creative Writing major, nor are they just for the every (wo)man, they're for everyone. Well, everyone who doesn't wear tweed. The following readings are proof of that.
Ray's Tap Reading Series

Ray's Tap Reading Series

Ray's Tap
3047 N. Kimball Avenue
Chicago, Il 60618
Every other month

Ray's Tap is a dive, and not in the kitschy kind of way. It's small and dirty and falling apart, just like the characters in the stories read there, and if you're even remotely human, you'll love it. Host Chris Bower will make you feel hollow inside and many of the stories you hear will sound like awkward secrets nobody would ever own up to. You won't find a reading like this anywhere else. Don't go ordering any of those "fancy" drinks though, Ray might laugh at you (and rightfully so). Ray's is every other month, but if you haven't been to one yet, hurry soon. News around town is that it won't be around for much longer.

Encyclopedia Show

The Encyclopedia Show

The Vittum Theatre
1012 N. Noble Street
Chicago, Il 60642
First Wednesday of the month
$8 adults $5 students

The Encyclopedia Show is like Wikipedia, except less accurate. The first Wednesday of every month writers, poets and the occasional musicians get assigned a topic they know nothing about and proceed to butcher it in hilarious fashion. Whether the show is about Civil Wars, Flightless Birds or Brains, you'll hear less fact and more fiction, which will account for all your laughing. Hosts Shanny Jean Maney and Robbie Q. Telfer wouldn't have it any other way, filling the time between performers with their welcomed banter. Regular cast members like Joel Chmara and Patrick Carberry also move the show along, providing dependable humor at every event. Plus, it's the only all ages reading on this list! Instead of taking place at a bar, Encyclopedia Show is at the Vittum Theatre, a wonderful space that gives the wacky show a funny air of respectability.

Neutron Bomb

Cal's Liquors
400 S. Wells Street
Chicago, Il 60607

Neutron Bomb is a punk rock reading. What else do you need? Pulling their readers not only from English departments, but also the gutters and alleyways of Chicago, Neutron Bomb holds true to many tough-guy cliches (for example, they are definitely in your face). They also feature a punk band at every show. Finally, a reading with a pit. No skanking allowed.


RUI: Reading Under the Influence

3258 N. Sheffield Ave.
Chicago, Il 60657
First Wednesday of the month

While drinking is not a requirement, the fact remains that writers like to drink, something RUI knows well. Gathering in the back room of Sheffield's and combining good drinks and food with great stories and trivia, RUI isn't out to change the world. They just want to have a good time, something that both readers and audience members alike pull off every month. My suggestion? Invite that sober friend you have. Don't worry, they'll have such a great time they won't mind you being belligerently drunk by the end of the night.

Uptown Poetry Slam

Green Mill Jazz Club
4802 N. Broadway Ave.
Chicago, IL 60640
Every Sunday

Started by Marc Smith in 1986, Uptown Poetry Slam is a staple of the city, an open mic where many young artists start. If you're a poet, it's hard not to know about the Green Mill simply because of it. Taking the written word and transforming it into literal voice inspired by the blue collar worker, it was at Marc Smith's readings that slam poetry was created. And aren't we the better for it? So stop by Green Mill Jazz Club and see where an art form was born.



Innertown Pub
1935 W. Thomas
Chicago, Il 60622
2nd Tuesday of every other month

Reading a story in under four minutes is nigh impossible, especially for long winded writers, but that's the very premise of Quickies! To hosts Mary Hamilton and Lindsay Hunter, this premise is law. You have four minutes to read your story, not an excerpt, not a summary, a full fledged story. Go over time and they'll kick you right off the stage, literally if they need to. After such a shaming your only solace will be the Innertown Pub's often out-of-date decorations and friendly bartenders. Say goodbye to co-host Mary Hamilton at their June 14th reading!

Sunday Night...
credit: Sunday Night Sex Show

Sunday Night Sex Show

The Burlington
3425 W. Fullerton Ave.
Chicago, Il 60647
Last Sunday of every month

Robyn Pennacchia isn't what you'd call shy. The last Sunday of every month she hosts Sunday Night Sex Show, a reading where she handpicks Chicago writers to tell their, well, sex stories. Always dirty, usually funny, and occasionally touching, Sunday Night Sex Show never fails to entertain.

The Dil Pickle Club
credit: Jacob Knabb (and Emerson Dameron for wearing the suit)

The Dil Pickle Club

Changes locations!
4 times a year

Chicago used to be cooler and the Dil Pickle Club knows it. Originally a speakeasy frequented by writers and activists in the early 20th century, the Dil Pickle Club is now kept alive as a reading series that jumps around the city. Each reading has a theme of opposing ideas, the last being "black / white," which each presenter is expected to represent in whatever fashion they like. The purpose of the theme isn't a matter of debate though, it's supposed to be a sharing of ideas, a reason to uphold the original Dil Pickle Club's open arm embrace of all view points. Oh yeah, and it's fun.

Write Club
credit: Evan Hanover

Write Club

The Hideout
1354 W. Wabansia Avenue
Chicago, Il 60642
Write Club on Facebook
Donations go to charity!

According to host Ian Belknap, "Write Club is literature as bloodsport," and, "bare knuckled lit." This is, without a doubt, accurate. The concept is easy, two writers with opposing ideas (North VS South, Mother VS Father, Attack VS Defend etc.) have seven minutes to convince the audience that they are right and their opponent is horribly, horribly wrong. Winner takes all, loser can go jump off a cliff. And what does one win besides glory? A donation to the charity of their choice, something that overshadows that whole petty competition aspect of it all. As it should. Check out the next reading on June 21st!

Harold Ray

So You Think You Have Nerves of Steel...

The Hungry Brain
2319 W. Belmont Ave.
Chicago, Il 60618
First Tuesday of the month

Host Harold Ray is a vile, horrible person, but don't let that deter you from this swell reading. Started by the2ndhand, a pamphlet / online lit mag, Nerves of Steel combines stories, comedy and live music to make some sort of wonderful shmorgishborg of entertainment. So check it out, just beware of the man with the West Virginian accent.

Real Talk Live

Real Talk Live

$5 donation requested

Run by a cadre of roguish poets known as Real Talk Avenue, Real Talk Live is a morally murky pool of amazing talent. Inviting mostly poets, along with the occasional prose writers, musicians and burlesque performers, Real Talk Live is more than a reading, it's a community. If you're looking for a place to feel welcome, then attend the next Real Talk Live as soon as possible.

2nd Story

2nd Story

Webster's Wine Bar
1480 W. Webster
Chicago, Il 60614
2nd Sunday and following Monday every month
$12 online $15 door

There's nothing better than the sudden NEED to tell a great story after hearing an equally amazing story. This is what 2nd Story is all about. Working with Serendipity Theatre, 2nd Story caters their tales to a more theatrical degree than your typical lit reading. The readers rehearse beforehand, including sound effects with their piece, telling relatable stories in a warm and familiar fashion, combining to make you want to stand at attention to tell a story of your own. Located in Webster's Wine Bar, they love to show off their quality drinks, which just adds to the reading. Especially after four or five of them. Don't be ashamed if you wake up the morning after a 2nd Story reading recollecting nothing but the fact that you had a great time.

Something to keep in mind: this is not a comprehensive list of Chicago readings. There's one around every corner, far more than I could ever list here, and the worst part about it all? They're all great. Now listen, I know you don't have the time to traverse all of them, nobody does, but I highly suggest checking out at least one. Whether you're a serious novelist looking for inspiration, or just somebody who is in need of a fun night, I guarantee you'll have a good time. It's not like you have anything better to do!

Mason Johnson, CBS Local Chicago


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